“On the Aisle with Larry”

Lawrence Harbison brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. This week, Larry tells you about THE AMISH PROJECT, THINGS OF DRY HOURS and Ensemble Studio Theatre’s MARATHON, SERIES B.

I am ordinarily not much of a fan of one-person plays, which are ever more ubiquitous these days because they are the cheapest plays to produce; but I like Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre a lot, so I wasn’t going to hold it against them that they’re ending their season with a monodrama, in this case The Amish Project written and performed by Jessica Dickey. In fact, I was eagerly anticipating this one, because I have been hearing some very good things about it.

About three years ago, a man invaded an Amish schoolhouse, expelled all the boys and proceeded to shoot the girls. This tragedy inspired Dickey to spend time in Pennsylvania talking to the locals, Amish and non, and the result is this collection of monologues in which she plays seven characters in all. I was surprised, and grateful, that Dickey does not indulge in pop psychology to explain away this horrific event. She is more interested in its effect on the lives of the people affected by it – including the wife of the shooter. This all coalesces into a question too inscrutable for our secular culture to fathom: how could the Amish, whose children were murdered, forgive their murderer and try to assist his wife?

Ms. Dickey is terrific, both as writer and performer. My only quibble with this is the title. It’s a working title, not a final-draft title. Still, this is a poignant 65 minutes and well worth seeing.

As is Naomi Wallace’s Things of Dry Hours at New York Theatre Workshop. This takes place in the 1930’s in the deep south and concerns a negro communist agitator who lives with his daughter who don’t give a hoot about the revolution. A young white man arrives on their doorstep, claiming to be on the run from the bosses’ goons and asking for sanctuary. Reluctantly, it is granted, and the agitator proceeds to try and educate his guest in the philosophy of communism as expounded by Mark and Engels in The Communist Manifesto and by God in The Bible.

Of course, the daughter falls for the guest and, of course, its revealed he’s not who he says he is. This sounds kind of dull; but Wallace’s scenes are taut and dramatic. She only falters when she resorts to narrative monologues directly addressed to the audience. The play is bookended with these, which are unnecessary and, well, boring.

The cast, under Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s rather languid direction, works wonders with this intense, occasionally turgid play. Delroy Lindo is magnificent as the black communist and Roslyn Ruff is fierce as his angry daughter.

This play is a challenge to sit through, but it’s not the turkey you may have read about. I recommend it.

I also recommend Ensemble Studio Theatre’s annual Marathon of One Act Plays. So far I have only seen Series B (one of three), but each play was most enjoyable. My fave was Meir Ribalow’s outrageous metaphysical western, Sundance, wherein gunslingers sit around Your Basic Saloon talking about their reasons for killing. One kills to uphold the law; one kills for pure pleasure; another kills for the revolution. They wind up meeting their fates at the gun barrel of the Ultimate Killer, the eponymous character who kills for no reason whatsoever. At times chilling, at times whimsically hilarious, this was the best play of Series B. The weird thing about it is, this play was written at least 25 years ago and published at least 20 years ago. EST does premieres in its Marathon –so what is Sundance doing therein?

THE AMISH PROJECT. Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre. 224 Waverly Pl.

TICKETS: www.smarttix.com. 212-868-4444.

THINGS OF DRY HOURS. NY Theatre Workshop. 79 E. 4th St.

TICKETS: 212-460-5475.

ENSEMBLE STUDIO THEATRE MARATHON. 549 W. 52ND St.

TICKETS: 212-247-4982.


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